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[802SEC] UWB Insider Article

Title: UWB Insider
UWB Insider

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No IEEE Standard, So What Now?

by Peter Meade, UWB Insider – December 18, 2003

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Is the inability of the IEEE to gain the needed 75 percent consensus on an ultrawideband (UWB) standard actually “threatening” the industry? Are market watchers truly “worried” that the standards stalemate will slow time to market and then mass-market adoption?

These are some of the statements currently circulating in UWB circles. While this may sound like blasphemy or at least biting the hand that feeds, you just can’t believe everything you read. These days in the land of UWB, there appears to be more questions than answers, more posturing than possibilities and—oh, horrors—perhaps more fiction than fact.

Trying to filter the truth from hearsay and dreams from reality now requires a pretty fine strainer. With the IEEE process stalled, at least for the moment and most likely even after its January meeting in Vancouver, perhaps another industry organization, such as the WiMedia Alliance or the 1394 Trade Association, will step forward to facilitate progress?

“If indeed the IEEE process is stuck,” said Glyn Roberts, president of the WiMedia Alliance and manager of business research and development for advanced systems technologies at STMicroelectronics, “The industry needs to figure out a way to move forward.”

Acknowledging the (physical layer) “PHY is the key element,” he offered a trio of possible scenarios for potential standards advancement. A special interest group (SIG) could emerge to preside over the technology “from soup to nuts, like what happened with Bluetooth, WiFi and Zigbee,” Roberts said. With the aid of SIGs, all the aforementioned technologies ultimately did learn to discipline themselves, he added.

Another possibility Roberts suggested is that the two leading proposals, from Motorola and the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA), could exist as co-de facto standards. While this might move the market forward, Roberts warns the aftereffects may include market confusion and a sub-par user experience.

“I would first like to see us exhaust the IEEE process,” said Ben Manny, co-director of wireless technology development for Intel Corp.’s research and development efforts. “I would like to see the IEEE become an effective standards body for wireless. I don’t want to see the IEEE approve both approaches and let the market decide.”

The market should not decide the standard because there are bigger decisions than what consumers want. “For example, UWB must co-exist with other technologies, especially 802.11a,” Manny said. “This is because most of UWB’s more widespread applications will include wireless local-area networks (WLANs).” In the big picture, there is a lot more at stake than wirelessly downloading video to a plasma TV—the most hyped UWB application.

UWB may start in the home, but surely it will migrate to more complex application environments, such as the enterprise, in short order. One reason Intel’s Manny said he remains an unwavering proponent of a multi-band approach is its ability to provide scalable data rates is far superior to Motorola’s single-band proposal. The flexibility that multiband exhibits over single band is key, especially outside the U.S. where UWB may need to operate in different spectrum.

“The stalemate is a blessing in disguise because the UWB industry is not ready yet,” said Gary Smith Anderson, chairman, founder and chief scientist at Uraxs Communications Inc., who has represented U.S. industry as a non-sponsored delegate to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on UWB matters. “The ITU’s main concern is that there are lots of little countries and they all use radios differently. This remains a big deal—even with software radios. It can be difficult, even for a channelized system like Multiband OFDM, to block out all the proper channels.”

According to Anderson, the UWB industry will be ready when it puts in the extra time needed so the resulting standard is well thought out. “It’s not in the best interest of the world to adopt a U.S.-based standard,” he said. “Ultimately, a move like that could stymie progress because the rest of the world may have other concerns or challenges when it comes to implementation.”

WiMedia: ’A Good Candidate’

So is the WiMedia Alliance the best avenue for progress due to the IEEE’s gridock? “It’s a good candidate,” said WiMedia president Roberts, who added that in all likelihood, the PHY would emerge from one of the two existing proposals.

There is the possibility that the WiMedia Alliance would get more deeply involved and pick the PHY that best recites its mantra, which is ease of use. While the differences between the two proposals leave each side in serious disagreement, most of the combatants seem to agree that either side achieving the required 75 percent of the vote in the IEEE process is a daunting task. In contrast, the WiMedia Alliance’s voting procedure seems a lot friendlier. Casting one vote per company may, at least in theory, help the UWB industry gain consensus quicker.

But don’t expect the WiMedia Alliance to be the easy solution. “I don’t see the WiMedia Alliance changing its mission, but perhaps we will expand our scope,” said Mark Fidler, a member of the WiMedia Alliance’s MAC convergence architecture group and a senior engineer scientist for Hewlett Packard’s imaging and printing group. “We still expect a PHY out of the IEEE, but without a major shift, I don’t see either proposal gaining the needed 75 percent.”

As for the increased impact the 1394 Wireless Group may have on the standards proceedings, the fact that chair Peter Johansson declined comment on the subject speaks volumes. Group spokesman Dick Davies, however, did offer some insight on the group’s future direction. “The 1394 TA will stay out of the UWB PHY discussions,” he said. “Even though some of the Trade Association’s member companies have considerable digital radio expertise, the TA itself does not.”

This doesn’t mean the 1394 Wireless Group will sit idly. “The 1394 PAL project for 802.15.3 underway in the 1394 Wireless Working Group will be unaffected by the stalemate over UWB physical layer devices,” Davies added. “We continue to make excellent progress on the draft version of the standard, which will enable a true wireless 1394 implementation.”

Clearing Hurdles

So what advancements can be made to separate the aforementioned facts from the fiction? Perhaps the answer lies in three words: testing, testing, testing. OK, so that’s one word, but the repetition is for effect on the cause. The only fair way to end the standoff once and for all is for both of the leading proposals to undergo lots of rigorous head-to-head testing. This is the most direct path for ending the claims that muddy the water regarding interference and compliance while letting the truth rise to the top.

According to HP’s Fidler, if the MBOA proposal passes all the tests and meets all the FCC guidelines, it would be hard to stop such a juggernaut from gaining widespread acceptance. Because of already having the support from many vendors in its corner, the MBOA specification comes out as the best bet for providing interoperable solutions that best address market needs. Even so, do not expect the ongoing war of words to end before it first gets harsher.

Intel’s Manny re-emphasized that despite the recent verbal salvos the standards struggle is not a grudge match between his company and Motorola, even after Intel accused Motorola of not respecting mutual non-disclosure agreements regarding their respective but opposing proposals.

According to Manny, each side had agreed to study the opposing side’s performance issues. While the MBOA had decided it had nothing conclusive yet to show from testing, Motorola disclosed its findings anyway—a violation. “We trusted that we could work together,” Manny said. “Now the door is closed. Now there is no way to work together for a common solution. We’re disappointed.”

Motorola also will have to rebound from what can be characterized as a disappointing showing at the recent UWB Forum in Korea. At the event, with many influential industry types in attendance, Motorola’s third-generation development platform using second-generation chipsets and external field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) barely delivered video at a range of three feet, far short of what has been expected all along.

Along with the showing in Korea, the adversity in Albuquerque actually has strengthened the MBOA cause, Manny said. While work continues on developing and refining the MBOA specification, he did not, however, express much optimism for successful agreement at the IEEE gathering in Vancouver next month. “There are lots of different agendas at work at the IEEE,” he said. “I’d rather the IEEE process fostered good science instead of being preoccupied with the political process.”

If indeed the process is hopelessly stalled in the IEEE, Uraxs’s Anderson has a final suggestion: “Move to market what has been developed as long as it adheres to the FCC’s Report & Order. Push it through the consumer market. These products will evolve anyway as will the standard. We need to build on the adoption of technology.”

Such steps forward need to be taken cautiously. After all, the consumer market’s adoption of technology can resemble quicksand. Equally dangerous may be determining the standards battle on the store shelves; as such a scenario does not guarantee anyone will emerge a winner. ”Time to market, I could care less,” said HP’s Fidler. “Time to pervasiveness. That's what it’s all about. For UWB to achieve that and communicate with a multitude of devices, there can be only one standard.”

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